In a generation, New York City has gone from worrying about AIDS to caring for hundreds of people dead or in brain-damaged from the prescription opioid epidemic
In a story Wednesday, the New York Times reported that over 3,000 people are dead from opioid overdoses — more than have died from AIDS, a lethal disease brought on by the indiscriminate spread of homosexual sex.
While overdose fatalities have risen over the past decade, many people don’t realize that the largest numbers of deaths were linked to the 2011 epidemic. The news report provides an overview of the consequences of what has become the deadliest drug epidemic the U.S. has seen in decades. The data include each state’s death total over the last five years through January 2016 as well as the New York City total from 2015. The report lists the medical examiner’s office as saying that the toll will rise significantly when it releases its final tally this summer.
New York had more overdose deaths than deaths from suicide over the past five years through January 2016, according to the report.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics , the department runs a nationally representative death investigation program and collects data for states and the District of Columbia.
The Associated Press also reported Wednesday that in 2014 the U.S. declared a public health emergency in response to the opioid epidemic.
The news organizations used figures from the New York City medical examiner’s office, noting that drug overdose deaths at the city morgue reached record highs in 2015 and 2016. In January 2018, more than 400 people were killed in New York City due to opioid overdoses.
That study, published on March 13 in the American Journal of Public Health , measured overdose deaths and found that more than 1,000 New Yorkers died from drug overdoses that year. The study’s authors concluded that “many in the city face a human catastrophe in the face of current state and federal inaction.”
The epidemic began in the 1980s and has hit many cities and communities, but experts agree that New York has been hit hard by the issue.
It was first revealed during a 2015 drug raid at a bodega in the Bronx that nearly half of the pharmacy’s inventory was filled with prescription opioids that were then diverted to the black market. Two people were charged in the case, which led to a widespread public health crisis. That same year, New York City officials introduced the city’s opioid overdose antidote, Narcan, to pharmacies and police officers, and in September 2016, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced its official rollout to residents.
Determining how many deaths are directly tied to prescription opioids and illicit drugs is difficult. Generally, when a death is attributed to an opioid, researchers look for a direct link. They examine the probable cause of death, and if there isn’t one, they can determine that there was a related an unintentional trauma or illness. Also, there can be extreme cases of overdose linked to other illicit drugs.
Related content Read the New York Times report about the epidemic
Still, a number of deaths are attributed to overprescribing of addictive drugs.
In October 2017, the medical examiner in Philadelphia released a study that found a dramatic increase in unintentional deaths in Philadelphia and within neighboring counties that were linked to chronic pain management. Some of those deaths involved opioids that were obtained from doctors and pharmacies.
The medical examiner concluded that such drugs “were commonly obtained illegally by individuals who did not have a legitimate medical need for the medication.”
The report also included several cities and counties that were trying to combat overdoses by expanding access to Narcan. Connecticut, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and West Virginia made Narcan available to all frontline healthcare providers. The Northeast District of Maryland has made Narcan available to all pharmacists and emergency responders.
Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, is paying more than $50 million to resolve claims that the opioid manufacturer helped drive a major increase in overdoses.